Pride and politics

Why don’t more people apologize when they do something wrong? Pride. Why do people think they’re entitled to the finer things in life and take what they haven’t earned? Pride. Why, editorial writer, do you lecture others but don’t write about where your own behavior needs improvement? Fair enough — pride.

Pride is kind of like refusing to share, keeping something just for you and thinking, “This is mine, I deserve it, and I’m holding onto it.” Often that thing is a part of yourself, such as self-esteem that, when taken too far, becomes arrogance, or a goal that becomes an ambition.

Pride is deeply embroiled in politics. For one thing, it sells. Voters often tend to like someone with confidence, who stands up for him or herself.

Also, because we the people constantly bash politicians, that can breed in them an inner defensiveness, even while maintaining a veneer of public servitude. That’s pride, too — and wounded pride is sometimes the worst kind.

To run for elected office, you have to put yourself out there with confidence. There’s nothing wrong with that, but those who choose that career have to examine themselves and guard against hubris. An extreme example, too blunt for most politicians, is Donald Trump’s statement at the 2016 Republican National Convention: “I alone can fix it.”

Then again, he got elected as president of the United States.

Is that a problem? We think it is. We think there is a pride creep going on in American politics that, if unchecked, leads to runaway egotism, abuse of power and resistance to the public accountability our Founding Fathers prescribed.

Trump, of course, is the ultimate example of that, in more ways than we can even begin to describe.

We Americans like to talk about “public servants” because it implies humility. It’s a good ideal to hang onto, and, as much as it may be unpopular to say this, it’s also largely true. Our politicians know they have to meet public approval to get and keep their jobs in every election, and this goes a long way toward giving us the government we want.

But as the stakes get higher and the competition gets fiercer, personal ambition and ego can overshadow public service. The competition is good for citizens in many ways, but bad in others. As candidates stand up for themselves, they may do things to get elected that violate the values they profess to believe in.

Candidates running for office don’t just want to publicize their views, priorities and backgrounds, and let voters make the decision. They want to fight to win. That can mean manipulating voters through skewed ads and messaging, demonizing one’s opponents, hiring strategists, changing values based on polling, and, to pay for all this, spending more time soliciting donations than talking to voters.

The sad part is, it often pays off with victory. But at what cost, to both the politician’s soul and the electorate’s trust.

Transparency, in campaign funding and governance, is a good way to counteract excessive pride. One idea is to promote transparency would be to make the state Freedom of Information Law apply to the state Legislature. The fact that the people who passed this law didn’t want to be subject to it is an enduring injustice. Hiding one’s mistakes usually makes things worse.

In that sense, a newspaper is actually a pretty good example of humility. We screw up all the time, and when we do, we correct the inaccuracies, both online and in print. Sometimes it’s more than just accidentally getting someone’s job title wrong. Occasionally (rarely, thank God) we do sloppy journalism and make big mistakes that require more than just a correction brief on page 3. Then we have to apologize in an editorial.

It’s no fun, but we can tell you, it’s much better in the long run than to press forward when we’re in the wrong.

Ultimately we all have to take personal responsibility and model the morals we want to see. If enough people do that, it becomes the norm. Then we can generate political candidates who uphold those values, and we do our best to be their compass as they navigate a sea of money.

There’s nothing original, easy or sexy about that solution, but that’s life.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise

COMMENTS